Driving B2B marketing in 2017
Demonetisation and the cashless drive may have dampened the start of a great year in India for B2B companies. Media experts are questioning the merits of the DeMo move and doubting the India growth story with contradictory data between them and the government. A significant number of small and medium enterprises have lost a fortune in the midst of it all and with the GST looming large, what promises 2017 hold out?
So what awaits them for 2017? Will B2B marketing change with the changing economic and public policies? Or shall one look at history and try incremental improvements? Or would some of these companies look at rewriting history? Our discussions with a number of B2B owners threw up several interesting possibilities for this year.
It seems the biggest challenges for B2B this year are retaining customers and increasing brand awareness. About 55 per cent of the B2B organisations surveyed expressed these as the top challenges for marketing, as compared to only 40 per cent last year. “It is becoming increasingly difficult to get our messages across to our audience now”, is a common response. More and more B2B companies are now getting into the digital media. This trend will continue in 2017 where we will see resources being pulled out from traditional media such as conferences, events and trade journals.
The proliferation of social media and digital media will only get more prominence this year. It is clear to everyone that digital marketing will have to take a larger share of any marketing budget as acquisition of leads will move more and more into this media. And more and more companies are embracing this medium for quicker and inexpensive results. There will be faster adoption rate in 2017 and every business will seek help in driving this medium. If you are lagging behind on this front, now is pretty much the right time to get your marketing managers to pull up their digital media socks.
In a similar fashion, we will also see the proliferation of the ad agencies in the digital space. We will find more and more creative shops mushrooming in the coming year with focused offerings and services. For instance, you will see consulting services for the use of appropriate digital me-dia and the measurement of results. Existing agencies will increase the breadth of their services. So it will be a task to find the right agency for your needs and it is also possible for you to get specialists for almost all requirements.
Direct mailers in the old fashioned way will make a comeback this year as e-mailers are showing fatigue. Although the digital media is faster and cheaper, the specially designed direct mailers will have a better chance to get seen in a world where the physical mail is hardly any. Those who have been predicting the total disappearance of the hard copy brochure will slowly eat their words.
Content will become king this year too. Content marketing will take centre stage more prominently for B2B just as it is for B2C. This will perhaps trigger more software applications being made available for free, and at a price, for B2B marketers. Syndication of online content will be a normal thing in 2017. This will probably be an after effect of B2C success of lead generation using content.
With the online media becoming important, marketing folks will probably drive more sales than sales folks. Will sales as a function get merged with marketing this year? As more and more leads get generated directly by the online efforts leading to marketing executives converting them into hotlists. Qualifying leads, managing the leads to appropriate departments and operations may move to marketing in the coming two years. The digitisation drive by the government will only accelerate this.
The measurement of digital media has still not evolved and does not yet give the desired results. Most companies and agencies use the TRP and GRP method to measure effectiveness of advertising, which is more appropriate for television. In 2017, new measures will emerge to accurately measure the effectiveness of this media. ROI will be paramount in every marketer’s dictionary. In short, it will become fashionable to measure every possible activity and compare. All of these will be primarily led by software service providers and ad agencies and most marketers will be forced to spend more on such services. Therefore one trend that will take shape in 2017 is the increasing IT spending by marketing.
B2B companies will find it extremely challenging to build relationships over the digital media. Because there are many more impersonal touch points now, it will be a task for building the brand connection at every point. Big data applications will be fashionable this year. Data in the Internet space is humongous and this is causing sleepless nights to all types of marketers. Companies from Microsoft to IBM and Oracle are working overtime on applications that can tackle such data. This will be more refined and offerings may get more sophisticated in 2017 resulting in different business models in this area. Most critical will be the analysis of compatibility and effective use of such software applications.
With so many new things happening online and offline, companies will find that integrated marketing efforts will be more important than ever in 2017. You cannot have an online campaign different from your brick and mortar campaign. Or you cannot claim something technologically most advanced via the digital media and let your telephone operator behave like a public sector employee. You may also want to coordinate your web, mobile, print, TV and other media efforts in a seamless manner in 2017. Else the content and message will get diluted and eventually harm your efforts.
For all these drastic changes to happen and for companies to resist the short-term sales pressure, it will need boards to listen to marketing for the long-term value creation.

(The writer is CEO and managing director of CustomerLab Solutions)
Columnist: 
M Muneer